Published on September 12th, 2012 | by Gearhead Diva0
Learn to Junkyard Like a Pro and Save Big
You’re working on restoring or rebuilding that early 70s car you’ve had in the garage for almost a decade, and you need parts. Your local parts store doesn’t have what you need, either. You could order a restoration part from a number of retailers online, and it would be the right part, probably either rebuilt, repro, or one they bought surplus. Or, you could save a bundle and find one at a junkyard. So, grab your tools, let’s go junkyarding!
Get Parts Faster and at a Fraction of the Cost
When you go to a junkyard for parts, you’re going to have it in your hands ready to use much quicker than if you go to one of the classic car parts sources. Depending on what you need, whether or not it’s in stock and it’s size, it can take a few days to a couple of weeks. By junkyarding, you might end up burning through a whole day at most, but odds are, you’re going home with the part you need and at an unbeatable bargain.
For newbies, these places can be intimidating, especially when first passing through the front gate where you have to sign your life away should you get squashed by an engine. But a good junkyard also offers a great opportunity to hone your mechanical skills as well as score truckloads of inexpensive parts – but you’ll have to do all the work.
The “Traditional” Junkyard
Less common nowawadays, some of you will remember the traditional junkyard. This type of junkyard is more like a store for used auto parts. When they get new vehicles in, they strip off the parts that are most in demand and stock them on the shelves behind the counter, or in their warehouse. For parts like whole engines, transmissions, and rear ends, they usually stock those on big racks just outside the door. Yeah, if you buy one of those bigger parts, like a transmission, you’re going to want to at least go through it, and possibly rebuild it, but, at least those parts you can find at a parts store. And you’re going to save a good deal of money over buying something already rebuilt.
With the traditional junkyard you can call up and have them check their inventory ahead of time. Most still do this for customers, especially if they’ve got older and more experienced guys behind the counter. And, if you’re looking for something like an “A-arm” off a 70 Chevelle, these guys are going to be able to tell you that GM used the same “A-arm” on (as an example) all A-body cars from 1968 through 1974, meaning you’ve just gone from looking for a part on one year, make, and model, to looking for the same part on six years, three makes, and probably five models. By going this route, you’re going to end up saving at least 50 percent over buying rebuilt or repro from other retailers. And again, you’ll be installing it later that day, instead of later that month.
The “Pick-a-Part” Junkyard
This is the way that most junkyards are going these days. They have quite a bit less overhead, and you end up saving even more money because of that. You pay a small entry fee (non-refundable if you don’t find what you’re looking for), and you’re let into a yard that covers several dozen acres at least. While researching different yards in your area, call ahead to find out what they specialize in so you can improve your chances of finding the right parts. When you get there, tell them at the window what you’re looking for and ask them to cross-reference it for you, so you know that you don’t have to look just for 1970 Chargers, but can look for 1966 through 1974 Chargers for that lower control arm and torsion bar.
These yards are largely governed by supply and demand so parts for pickups, vans, sedans and econoboxes are more plentiful than for rarer vintage cars. But they do get abandoned cars and wrecks coming in to be recycled on a regular basis so get familiar with their schedule to get first dibs on parts.
Bring your own Tools
Once you find what you’re looking for in the yard, you get to remove it yourself. You’re probably going to save at least 25 percent over the “traditional junkyard” going to a “pick-and-pull” yard. Yeah, you’re going to spend more time and get dirtier, but you’re already wrenching, so what’s the big deal, right?
Keep in mind that you’re going to have to haul back everything you find along with the tools you brought so bring the basics with you and leave the larger and heavier tools in the car as backup. Here’s what my setup looks like:
- Heavy duty backpack with pockets (I prefer a backpack over a toolbox because it frees up your hands)
- Pry bars
- 3/8″ Ratchet set with extensions (SAE & metric)
- Smaller Hammer
- Variety of pliers (including needle nose)
- Screwdrivers (3 lengths of phillips & flathead)
- Wrenches (various combinations)
- Allen wrenches
- Wire cutters
- Vise grips
- Safety glasses
- Gloves (you’ll be touching stuff that often looks questionable)
Backup Tools in the Car
- Long pry bars
- Pipe (to act as a breaker bar)
- 1/2″ Ratchet set
- Bigger hammer
- Cardboard sheet (for working on the ground when the surface is too nasty even for your “junkyarding attire”)
- Large bottle of water and pump soap for washing hands (trust me, you’re not going to want to touch anything in your car when you’re done)
Junkyards Make the Best Classrooms
Most people go to junkyards to find parts for a project they’re working on but it’s also a great place to practice your wrenching. For instance, you’ll encounter cars you’re unfamiliar with and the best way to broaden your knowledge is to take things apart. Find a differential, transfer case, windshield or suspension component and take it apart. Then try to put it back together again. If you get stuck, no problem – it’s not your car!
Got a big project coming up and want more confidence? Practice your repair or mod at the junkyard before doing it for real on your own car.
Photo credit: ReneS Flickr CC